Penn’s Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention Club hosted Take Back the Night — an event that allows survivors of sexual assault to share their stories — in person for the first time since 2019 on April 7.
The event, virtual since 2019 due to COVID-19, took place from 5 p.m. in the tent of the Graduate School of Education and featured a rally followed by a vigil of survivors. The goal of the event was to “provide a space where survivors can be heard and share their stories,” according to Hannah Bases, a sophomore at the College and chair of sexual abuse and assault prevention.
Several other student groups co-sponsored the event, including Penn Anti-Violence Educators, the LGBT Center, Penn Women’s Center, Penn Violence Prevention, Penn Benjamins Peer Counseling, and Penn Special Services.
Take Back the Night is an international campaign that aims to take a stand against interpersonal and sexual violence. On Penn’s campus, Take Back the Night typically includes a speaker on College Green, a rally and march around campus with performances by the Penn Band, and a survivor speech and candlelight vigil.
This year, Take Back the Night began with a rally open to the public that included speeches from members of the Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention Branch and representatives from campus resource centers.
Bases began the event by remarking on Penn’s obligation to protect survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence, stressing that University-wide efforts must be made to educate Penn students about the importance of advocacy.
“Consent and resource education cannot end with a session at [New Student Orientation]”, she said. “We cannot let the passage of time or changes in leadership detract from this important message.”
Two medical professionals spoke at the event – Laura Sinko, an assistant professor at Temple University, and Jeannine Cicco Barker, a former psychologist in Counseling and Psychology Services and currently a Penn Master’s Lecturer of Social Work Program.
“You can’t talk about sexual violence without talking about gender,” Sinko said in her speech, adding that one in four women experience sexual abuse in her lifetime. [gendered] power dynamic that cultivates sexual evil.”
Barker spoke about what she saw as the “game-changing” power of hope and the importance of centering the voices of marginalized communities when healing from sexual and interpersonal violence, saying that “holding on to the radical hope is powerful”.
“Healing is a process; it’s about finding ways to integrate who we are with what we’ve been through,” she said.
Penn’s interim chairman Wendell Pritchett was scheduled to deliver brief remarks at the event but was unable to attend, according to the Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention Directorate, which said it received an e e-mail from his office a few hours before the event.
After the rally, a vigil of survivors was held from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. During the vigil, no telephones were allowed and confidential resource centers were also present.
Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention works to increase awareness of sexual violence on Penn’s campus, hosting speaker events and working closely with Penn Violence Prevention and the Penn Women’s Center to support survivors.
College senior Sarah Payne – who served as Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention Chair in 2021 and is currently a board representative at the University of Penn – said that in 2018, the Sexual Abuse and Assault Prevention Council Sexual Assault had been restructured to redefine the goals of the organization. Now, she added, he is focusing more on advocacy and education on interpersonal and sexual violence.
The co-sponsors aimed to increase accessibility and awareness of the event by participating in poster-making events organized by Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention.
“We don’t want survivors to feel pressured to organize these events themselves,” Bases said. Payne echoed those sentiments, adding that “seeing and hearing people put their complex experience into words and share their stories is really powerful.”